Sports

TJ's Sawatzky pulls double duty on soccer field

You’ve seen the T-shirts – “Soccer is life, the rest is just details.”

That saying could have been written for Darren Sawatzky. The 30-year-old has spent most of his life on a soccer field and he continues to eat sleep and breath the sport.

“It just flows through my veins” he said.

Not only is Sawatzky the head coach of the 14-0-1 Thomas Jefferson High School Raiders, he also plays professional soccer for the Seattle Sounders and is the training director for the Highline Heat premier soccer club in Burien.

“I think I kicked a soccer ball for the first time when I was 5 years old and I have kicked one every day since then,” Sawatzky said. “I just love it.”

Sawatzky’s love of the game, has turned into a career, which he doesn’t mind a bit. The goal of every person entering the work force is to do something they enjoy. You want to actually look forward to waking up in the morning and going to work.

Sawatzky does.

After years of roaming the globe playing soccer, Sawatzky is back home – coaching his alma mater and playing for Washington’s lone professional team.

“I just enjoy being around the game,” he said.

Coaching soccer is a fairly new experience for the 1991 TJ grad. Sawatzky took over the Raider program last season and led the Raiders to a third-place finish in the South Puget Sound League South Division before being ousted in the first round of the postseason.

In his second season, Sawatzky has the Raiders back on top. Jefferson wrapped up its first league championship since 1999 last week with a 14-0 blowout of Rogers. Now the goal turns to winning the Raiders’ sixth state title. Jefferson won four-straight championships from 1984-87 and another in 1994. During their run in the mid-80s, TJ won a national-record 93-straight soccer games.

“It is a big-time program,” Sawatzky said.

The Raiders’ postseason journey starts Wednesday when they take on the SPSL North champion Kentridge Chargers to determine the No. 1 seed from the 19-team league.

“Coaching is a lot different from playing,” said Sawatzky. “Coaching is for guys who can’t play the game anymore, who just want to walk around on the sidelines.”

Sawatzky likes to see he is the exception to that rule.

The midfielder/forward is entering his second season with the Sounders – a season that could be his last in professional soccer. He is one of only four players on the Sounders’ roster over the age of 30 and the ol’ body just isn’t doing what it used to do on the soccer field, he admits. Plus, the money the Sounders make isn’t anything to write home about.

According to Bart Wiley, the Sounders’ public relations manager, players are paid monthly and they all have five-month contracts that begin April 1st and run through the end of August.

“Some players get paid only when appearing in a game and some make decent money,” said Wiley, who said he couldn’t disclose salaries.

“I’m really not sure what is going to happen,” Sawatzky said about his playing career. “We’ll see how I feel in the offseason. I have always been a starting player and this year I am taking more of a reserve roll.”

Last year, Sawatzky was leading the A-League in scoring through the first half of the year, but felt worn down in the second half and didn’t tally a goal in the Sounders’ final 15 games.

Also, the Sounders’ schedule has a way of coinciding with the high school postseason.

“I have worked it out the best that I can to not miss (Jefferson) games,” Sawatzky said. “But if I have to miss a game I have one of the best assistants around – my brother – so I don’t worry about it. It’s just like having me there.”

Sawatzky’s soccer resume reads like the travel itinerary of the Pope. After graduating from Jefferson in 1991, Sawatzky took his soccer talents to the University of Portland and left the soccer-rich school as its 10th leading scorer and as a first-team, All-West Coast Conference player.

Following college, the midfielder/forward has played all around the globe, in places like Mexico, England, Dallas, Colorado, Portland, Boston, Hershey, Penn., Kansas City, Charleston and Seattle, to name a few stops.

The highlights of those destinations were four seasons in Major League Soccer – the top professional soccer league in the United States. The New England Revolution made Sawatzky the 75th player selected in the 1996 MLS Draft, which started a two-year career in Boston.

During his Revolution days, Sawatzky finished third on the talented team in scoring in 1996 with 13 points, which included a pair of goals during a 2-0 win over the MLS Cup champion D.C. United.

In 1997, Sawatzky was used mostly as a sub for the Revolution and was later placed on waivers. The next season he split time between the MLS’s Dallas Burn and the Hershey Wildcats of the A-League before being acquired by the Colorado Rapids in the first round of the 1999 MLS Supplemental Draft.

Sawatzky played only 14 games for the Rapids before being released.

After his MLS days, Sawatzky bounced around several locations before signing with the Kansas City Comets of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL), where he was released early last year. He then returned to the Seattle-area to play with the Sounders and coach the Raiders.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymiror.com

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